I was fortunate enough to see the Drama Department’s production of “Mary Stuart” last week. It was a wonderful experience overall, and the costumes were especially visually appealing.
One scene in particular was inspiring.
The play is set during the English Reformation when Catholicism was illegal and many religious images were considered idolatrous and were confiscated or destroyed. In this atmosphere, a character — not, admittedly, a strictly admirable one — described how he walked into an Italian church and was struck by its sheer beauty, which was unlike anything he had experienced in England. This experience eventually motivated him to become Catholic.
Beauty has always been important in the Church. In the first place, it is only appropriate that spaces dedicated to God should be beautiful. Secondly, it is an attractive way to present the faith.
The printing press has only been around for a quarter of the Church’s existence. For much of its history, books were scarce and most people could not read. Everyone, however, could understand the pictures in the stained-glass windows.
Nowadays, almost everyone can read, but art is still a powerful tool for evangelization. Beauty speaks to people in a universal, inarguable way and points them to the creator of all beauty.
We can disagree with Protestants about how and why we venerate Mary, with non-Christians about whether Jesus is God, and with atheists about whether God even exists, but no one can deny that the “Pieta” is beautiful.
For many of us, evangelization can quickly begin to feel like a chess game or a geometric proof. Reason and logic are obviously crucial to our faith, and I am certainly not saying we should not use them to spread it. However, they are not ends in themselves. Ultimately, we should be leading others toward relationships with God, not simply striving for intellectual victory. We want people to fall in love with the faith, and, although we might be tempted to roll our eyes, Catholicism’s beauty should be enough to draw concerts through both implicit and explicit artistic expressions.
What does this mean for the University of Dallas students, and our proverbial “ugly duckling” campus? I seriously doubt that there have been any conversions traceable to the soul-stirring sublimity of Carpenter Hall.
But, as we have seen, beauty is a serious matter for us as Catholics, and something to consciously pursue. Decking the dorms with frescoes and stained glass may not be a viable option, but there are realistic ways to improve our campus.
Although aesthetic should certainly be a concern for any new or renovated buildings, smaller scale projects such as the Our Lady of Guadalupe shrine may be the best way to enhance both our image and identity.
On an individual level, we can all help maintain campus; there is nothing beautiful about litter.
UD may never offer much in the way of scenic vistas, but, silly as it might sound, it is the inside that counts. UD does have its own beauty, chiefly in our community and curriculum.
Most people understand the importance of explicit beauty, but it is more difficult to explain the value of the liberal arts. Humanities majors will inevitably be asked, “But what are you going to do with that?” Many would respond that they have, in fact, gained marketable skills such as critical thinking and communication.
This is perfectly valid, but in some ways it misses the point. Ideally, we should try to see the material covered in the Core as something valuable, not simply as a luxury or a step to a career, although it is both. Truth, goodness, and beauty are, as has been seen through the ages, vital to a good life, and specifically to a Catholic one.